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Vince Dooley, seen here with Kirby Smart after the national championship win over Bama, is a favorite past coach. (Tony Walsh/UGA)
Tony Walsh

Kirby Smart recalls his fondest memory with Vince Dooley: ‘He’s the reason this program is what it is today’

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. — Kirby Smart’s mind was very clearly elsewhere when recapping the 42-20 Georgia win over Florida. He was very clearly thinking about Georgia legend Vince Dooley, who passed away at the age of 90 on Friday.

Smart opened his press conference by speaking about the importance of Dooley.

“It meant a lot for us to win that game for them and for all that Vince has meant to our university as such an ambassador to our program and really for all of college football,” Smart said. “So I know if he was looking down on that one he would have enjoyed the first half. I don’t know if he would have enjoyed the second one. He and Erk (Russell) probably had a laugh together about it. He’s meant so much to us. In honor of him and their family, it was special.”

Related: Remembering Vince Dooley: College football legends share thoughts, stories, emotions

Dooley served as the head coach of the program from 1964 through 1988. He was also the school’s athletic director from 1979 through 2004.

Even after departing the university in an official capacity, Dooley was a constant around the program. He’d pop in at press conferences from time to time, watching the program continue to grow long after he first planted the seeds to success.

“Coach Dooley is awesome,” quarterback Stetson Bennett said. “I’d see in the training room every now and then. He was as sharp as a tack right up until the end. He was awesome for this University. Led us for years and years and years. He’s the reason this program is what it is today.”

Dooley was on the field when Georgia won the national championship last January, sharing yet another special moment with Smart. From their time at Georgia, their paths crossed many a time.

Smart found out shortly after the team landed in Jacksonville, with Derek Dooley, one of Vince’s four children, passing along the news to Smart.

Dooley and Smart met in the training room last week, chatting for what would be the final time.

“That’s probably my fondest memory because even then he was telling stories about Georgia football. He’s been around my family,” Smart said. “He’s been in the box during these SEC championships and National Championships and my kids have gotten to be around him. It’s funny because my kids had no idea. Who’s the old coach? Who’s the old guy, you know? Now they know. They know the history and what all he stood for and what his family did for this university. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”

Related: Kirby Smart offers heartfelt message following passing of Georgia icon Vince Dooley

Dooley’s death didn’t just have an impact on the Georgia program, as a number of programs and coaches passed on their thoughts on the legend. A moment of silence was held for Dooley before the game in Jacksonville. Dooley racked up an 18-6-1 record in Jacksonville as a head coach. With the 42-20 win over Florida on Saturday, Smart moved to 5-2 as a head coach against the rival Gators.

Smart has already accomplished a lot in his Georgia career. Perhaps one day he’ll match what Dooley did at Georgia, who still holds the school win record with 201.

But to limit Dooley’s record to just football would short-change the Georgia icon. That much was clear not just in Jacksonville, Fla., but across the college football landscape.

“He’s really a person of the arts,” Smart said. “You don’t find that in our profession and it’s really cool and unique just who he is and how he’s treated everybody. What’s cool to me is I see all the social media, there’s not one person I look at on social media from Twitter to Facebook that doesn’t have a picture with him. And they all post the picture with him. And it’s there memory of him. He touched every life in the state and just did so much for our program.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart recalls fondest memory with Vince Dooley

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